Ramen is arguably one of the most well-known Japanese dishes, and is well loved amongst Japanese locals and worldwide. Considered the ultimate Japanese comfort food, typically a bowl of ramen in Japan costs less than $10 and is served to hungry customers within minutes of ordering.
Although ramen is a Japanese dish, ramen actually finds its origins in China, having been brought over to Yokohoma City in Japan by Chinese immigrants in the late 19th Century. The word ramen itself is a Japanese transcription of the Chinese word “la-mian” or “hand-pulled noodles'', as the dish was traditionally made with hand-pulled noodles. A classic bowl of ramen consists of a bowl of al dente wheat noodles, topped with sliced pork, vegetables and a soft boiled egg, all served in a steaming hot bowl of broth. There are four major types of Japanese ramen, which can be broken down by the tare or base flavor of the broth.
Miso ramen originates in the Northern Hokkaido Prefecture of Japan, and is made, unsurprisingly, with miso paste, a traditional Japanese seasoning made from fermented grains and soybeans. Unique in flavor, the miso taste is probably best described as a combination of salty cheese and nuts with a creamy texture. An oily stock made of pork, chicken or fish and miso paste are boiled together to create a nutty and thick soup. Depending on the color of the miso used, the miso broth can be anywhere from yellow to red in color. Miso ramen tends to have a robust flavor profile, tangy but slightly sweet, and can be mixed with various toppings – butter and corn, leeks, scallions, bean sprouts, onion, cabbage, sliced pork, etc. Miso ramen is often paired with a thicker and chewy noodle.
Shio (Salt) Ramen
Shio Ramen is the oldest of the four types of tare. Shio in Japanese, literally means “salt”. However contrary to the name, Shio Ramen has a contrastingly light and refreshing flavor. The clear broth is made with chicken, vegetable or fish stock and plenty of salt. Occasionally, pork bones are used to make the broth. However, the pork bones are not boiled for as long, as a signature of the Shio Ramen is the lightness of its broth. The simplicity of the broth results in a simpler, more one-dimensional flavor profile. The noodles in Shio Ramen are usually straight and thin.
Shoyu (Soy-sauce) Ramen
Shoyu Ramen is made with a soy-sauce base, resulting in a tangy and salty flavor. The ramen broth is clear brown and made with either chicken or vegetable stock, seasoned with plenty of soy sauce to give it its signature brown color. Shoyu Ramen is generally lighter on the palette, as the broth is more one-dimensional and not as rich as the Tonkatsu and Miso ramen. Shoyu Ramen is often topped with bamboo shoots, green onions, carrots, fishcakes, seaweed, boiled eggs, and chili oil. Shoyu Ramen noodles are often thin and curly.
Tonkotsu (Pork) Ramen
Tonkotsu Ramen, probably one of the most popular types of ramen, is made from a pork-bone based broth. The broth is made by boiling pork meat and bone together for multiple hours (the longer the better), resulting in a cloudy, thick and milky broth, that is creamy and richer than the other three types of tare. The broth is mild in flavor and tastes almost milky. This ramen is often topped with green onions, sliced pork, egg, seaweed, and pickled ginger. The noodles are often wiry and thin.
Although definitely not inclusive of all of the different combinations, types and styles of ramen out there, these are the 4 main types of flavor profiles that you’ll often see as a base for your ramen. A key thing to keep in mind is that the cloudier the broth, then the richer the flavor; the clearer the broth, then the lighter the flavor. Whether you prefer a heartier bowl of ramen or a lighter bowl of ramen, the perfect bowl is out there for you!
3 Other Notable Types of Ramen
Perhaps the original Tonkotsu ramen is the Kurume ramen, which originated in Kurume in Fukuoka. The biggest difference is that the Kurume ramen's pork broth is not as cloudy as the Tonkotsu ramen. The legend goes that Tonkotsu was accidentally invented when a cook set the stove too hot while cooking the Kurame ramen noodle soup.
Hakata ramen is actually a type of Tonkotsu ramen with a similar cloudy pork broth and ramen toppings. The main difference is that Hakata ramen uses thin noodles (but customers can request thick noodles). This type of ramen noodle is named after the port city Hakata and was popular among port workers. Thin noodles are used because they can cook much faster than thick noodles. This allowed the port workers to finish this pork bone ramen much faster.
The curry ramen originated in Muroran in 1965 in a ramen restaurant called the Aji no Daio. The standard recipe contains green onion, fried bean sprout, dried seaweed, roasted pork, cabbage, curry broth, and thick noodles to really soak up the broth. Fun Fact: Although around for a while, curry ramen became popular when rocker Nastume Abe endorsed it.
How To Make Ramen Noodles
Ramen is fairly straightforward to make at home. Don’t be intimidated! Just get the broth started early if you’re making it from scratch because it tastes best if it has simmered all day. And make sure you buy all your toppings in advance.
The possible garnishes for ramen are actually too numerous to list! Some examples of ramen toppings include sliced pork (chāshū), hard-boiled egg, fish cake slices (kamaboko), nori, pickled ginger, bamboo shoots (menma), scallions, and even corn.
Let’s go through a very simple ramen recipe for what we’ll call Naruto ramen. The favorite ramen of Naruto, a ninja character in a popular manga, happens to be miso ramen.
Here’s how to make a bowl of miso ramen noodles in the most basic, ‘bare-bones’ sort of way for newbies:
Prepare a chicken or pork soup stock or buy it premade.
Add Dashi Powder: Bonito & Kombu to give it a little taste of the sea without being overpowering. Dashi Powder: Vegetable powder is a good vegetarian alternative. The flavor of onions, ginger, carrots, and cabbage gives it a nice aroma and robustness.
Add a few scoops of miso paste to the broth and let it simmer.
Meanwhile, cook some pork to taste and slice it thinly. Pork shoulder is recommended.
Hard boil a few eggs. The ramen egg yolk should be fairly soft without being runny.
Get more toppings ready, such as pork, corn, cabbage, bean sprouts, or whatever grabs your fancy!
Prepare some fresh or instant ramen noodles in a separate pot.
Ladle some broth in a bowl, add the cooked noodles, and top off with pork and all your selected toppings.
Sprinkle some spices from the Shichimi Powder Set on top of your creation for a final embellishment. The subtle hints of onion, yuzu, pepper, and nori combine to make the perfect Japanese flourish.
Voilà, you can take pride in your first effort at making a simple bowl of ramen! You’ll most likely make little adjustments to your recipe each time you make it now that you’re a proper ramen chef. Itadakimasu (cheers to the cook)!
Ichiran Ramen is one of Japan's most popular restaurants -- and even sells an instant version! Watch us visit an Ichiran restaurant.